23. the big two
It’s an easy drive from Mysore to the Orange County resort on the Kabini River from where we’re going to visit Nagarhole National Park. More fertile farming land with paddocks of small crops. We’ll stay at the Orange County Resort which is on the shores of a man-made lake.
On the way we pass by a group of pilgrims on their way to Kerala. They’re dancing to a primal drum beat and their leader plays a kind of trumpet. It’s noisy and and the mood is vibrant. Their bodies are covered with indigo paint. Two colourful fringed umbrellas wave about. The bus stops and I run back, finally overtaking them. I’m walking backwards to take this photo. They’re laughing.
We’re told they have fasted for 40 days preparatory to this pilgrimage to a place called Sabarimala. Millions of Hindus make this pilgrimage each year to the place where a Hindu god meditated after killing a demon. I wonder what happens to their jobs while they are on their religious journey.
On my way back to the bus, I chat to the owner of the corner store, a man from Kerala who owns three shops. He gives me a handful of cashews, and takes the top off a clear plastic cannister. ‘Smell this.’ he says. I inhale the most beautiful spicy fragrance imaginable. I know they’re cardamom seeds, but they haven’t smelled like this in open baskets. The perfume has become concentrated by being contained. It’s quite heady and I am more in love with this spice than ever.
We pass cars jammed with people, trucks full of sugar-cane, bullock carts. IWe've left the safety of divided highways and are on narrow bitumen. I know better than to look through the windscreen at the crazy near-miss traffic. There’s so much to see out of the window anyway.
More of the fertile red soil. Tomatoes, sugar cane, other small crops, ploughed fields.
I imagine that farmers take a pride in how beautifully made their haystacks are.
A local mudbrick style of housing.
If you look closely you'll see that this is a temple under construction. It looks as if it's been a while since work was done.
She is reading the riot act to the old man, shaking her hand at him and pointing. He's pretending he can't hear.
These women are chatting to each other. Usually it's the other way around. The women working and the men sitting around talking.
The resort is African-style hunting lodge with thatched roof. It's totally organic, eco-friendly, self-sustainable, electricity-generating, water-purifying, government-accredited, you name it, it’s got it. When we see our three-room bungalow with its gourd lampshades, woven cane ceiling and tiger motif fabrics, John says ‘Me Tarzan you Jane.’ There is an open-air enclosed private spa. We don’t use it.
I like the trowelled patterned concrete floors.
Blinds screen the heat of the day. We are greeted with a cold sugar cane juice with lime and ginger. It's delicious.
Later there are binoculars lined up on a table ready for our afternoon cruise.
We are asked not to speak loudly on the boat, to stay in our place. We don’t want to scare any of the wildlife away, and the weight in the boat has to remain balanced. We see lots of birds, and my camera with its super zoom lens comes in handy. I have written down the names of birds we saw. Greater egret, woolly-necked stork, darter, painted stork. Lots more. I find it hard to remember which name goes with what bird.
I remember that this is a darter.
This is a very grainy photo of a painted stork.
I think this is a sandpiper.
We see an old elephant who has separated herself from the herd. She digs grass out by hitting the ground with her foot, twists her trunk to pull it out of the dry ground, then throws it down to separate the grass and dirt before she eats.
There is a group of spotted deer and sambahs (another larger darker deer without the spots) on the bank. Macaque monkeys, wild boar. The driver cuts the engine whenever there’s something worth seeing.
Suddenly a buzz goes around the boat. Kishan has had a phone call from one of his fellow guides. We can see in the distance two boats floating just offshore ahead. When we arrive, our driver cuts the motor and we drift. There’s a tiger sitting in the water on the edge of the lake. I fumble with my camera. My heart is beating very fast. I take a couple of unfocussed photos cutting off part of her body. Everyone is moving their heads to try to get a better vantage point. My pulse settles down. Luckily the sun is behind us, otherwise she would be very difficult to see in the glare.
The other boats are staying put. Luckily, we drift closer. She’s a huge tiger. She looks straight at us.
She gets up out of the water and turns to leave. My heart sinks. The timberline is close and if she wants to, she will disappear quickly.
She goes half way up the bank and lies down.
She rolls over. She licks herself. She sits up. She rolls again.
Finally she gets up and walks, not away from us, but along the shore towards us. ’Ive looked at the time on the photographs, and it was actually only for ten minutes that we watched her. It seemed like a half and hour.
Past us. She rubs her head on the rocks, she wees on them as she passes. I think she is marking her territory. Kishan later tells us that she is looking for a mate and this is her way of advertising. She disappears behind the rocks on the point.
We are all speechless. Then a babble of excitement. Did you see how big she was? What about when it looked as if she were leaving? How lucky are we? There’s a feeling of euphoria.
We weren't the only ones photographing. There is some serious equipment! We're in the same sort of boat.
Then a family of black otters who are very rarely seen. They panic and run for the nearby stack of cut timber. I manage to get a poor photo of the last otter.
But our hearts are still back with the tiger.
A mother and a baby elephant are feeding on the bank. We are harder to impress.
There are so many different types of birds.
I am struck by the beauty of the forest, with its deciduous trees.
The sun is going down as we cruise back to the resort. The staff all know that we have seen a tiger. They're so pleased.
I’m so disappointed when I find the internet is so slow here. I really want to share the afternoon with you. Wifi is not available in the bungalows. We can only connect at the pool or the activity centre. The speed is impossible. I send you an email instead.
Today our mission is to see a leopard. We are in the dining room at 5.30am ready to go for an early morning drive in fog through the open forest.
It's a beautiful morning. We meet our guide, and cruise across the lake to meet our open air bus and driver.
It's almost as if this peacock has arranged himself for us.
We see woodpeckers.
This Indian roller is not warmed up yet and has his feathers fluffed up
The spotted deer are very pretty, the more so in the mist. There are lots of fawns. Such easy prey for the cats.
A Malabar giant squirrel is having breakfast.
A grey jungle fowl which looks so much like a domestic rooster.
A wild boar with its bird friends. He's one wild looking dude.
The nest of the wolf spider.
The samba is larger than the spotted deer.
The gaur looks like a cross between a cow and a buffalo. Another vehicle has seen an elephant with tusks, but it disappears into the bush before we get there.
A sleepy skops owl. They mate for life.
This is a crested serpent eagle. As their name says, they eat snakes. They are often found dead from snakebite. I'm interested to hear that eagles and owls have fixed eye sockets. They can't turn their eyes, but have to move their whole head.
But no leopard. This afternoon we are going on another drive. We are keeping our fingers crossed.
We are a smaller group for this afternoon’s drive. Some opt to relax by the infinity pool. We have Lokesh, the same eagle-eyed driver as this morning. The other vehicle goes one way, we go another. It’s pot luck. ‘I’ve got a good feeling about today. I know the pressure is on,’ says our young guide Deepak He has heard we saw a tiger yesterday.
We see beautiful kingfishers with their flash of blue as they swoop through the forest.
Green bee-eaters too. That's the deciduous twisted grey wire-tree this one is sitting on.
The Indian roller shows off for the girls. He dives, he somersaults. The guide says that's his way of saying 'I would die for you'.
Suddenly the sound of langur monkeys calling out loudly. The driver stops the car immediately. Deepak is looking high up into the trees where they monkeys have climbed. He wants to see where they are looking. Their call is a good warning sign for a tiger or a leopard. Suddenly he points off to the right. ‘There’ he says, ‘a leopard’.
I'm on the right side of the bus. I scan the bush and suddenly I see him. Half-crouching on an animal track on the edge of the firebreak. My hands are shaking. I manage to take 2 photos before he decides it’s safe to walk across the road in front of us.
He disappears into the bush. We all look at each other. Speechless. 'Do you know how rare this is? Do you know how lucky you are to see both cats?' the guide says. We do.
He tells us that tigers don't like blood. They bite and compress the neck of their prey to suffocate it. They eat only the meat and prefer not to get blood all over themselves. Unlike lions. A tiger will kill a leopard in a fight. A leopard will always leave if it senses a tiger is about.
We have another hour in the forest. These baby monkeys were playing. Their aerobatics were fun to watch.
These two look as if they were posing for the camera. We see a few drongos with their amazing tails, but they are too quick to photograph. Deepak tells us that not only are they good mimics, but they have great timing. When other birds are feasting on grubs, they will make a raptor call to frighten them away so that the food is all theirs.
It's been a great two days. Two of the big cats. Lots of birds, deer, pigs, fowl, monkeys, gaur, otters.
We've travelled all day and we're now in Hyderabad. It's actually Wednesday morning and I'm ready for bed.
Hope you enjoyed the national park! Until tomorrow travelling buddies...